Neurotrophins (NTs) belong to a family of trophic factors that regulate the survival, growth and programmed cell death of neurons. In mammals, there are four structurally and functionally related NT proteins, viz. nerve growth factor (NGF), brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), neurotrophin 3 and neurotrophin 4. Most research on NTs to date has focussed on the effects of NGF and BDNF signalling via their respective cognate high affinity neurotrophic tyrosine kinase viz TrkA and TrkB receptors. Apart from the key physiologic roles of NGF and BDNF in peripheral and central nervous system function, NGF and BDNF signalling via TrkA and TrkB receptors respectively have been implicated in mechanisms underpinning neuropathic pain. Additionally, NGF and BDNF signalling via the low-affinity pan neurotrophin receptor at 75 kDa (p75NTR) may also contribute to the pathobiology of neuropathic pain. In this review, we critically assess the role of neurotrophins signalling via their cognate high affinity receptors as well as the low affinity p75NTR in the pathophysiology of peripheral neuropathic and central neuropathic pain. We also identify knowledge gaps to guide future research aimed at generating novel insight on how to optimally modulate NT signalling for discovery of novel therapeutics to improve neuropathic pain relief.
Keywords: BDNF; NGF; NT-3; NT-4; allodynia; central sensitisation; neuropathic pain; neurotrophic tyrosine kinase (Trk) receptor; neurotrophins; p75NTR.